Wondering what to eat in Madeira? Discover 27 Madeira food favorites that you don’t want to miss during your visit to the scenic Portuguese island. Our list includes traditional Madeira cuisine, sweet desserts and tasty tipples.
Madeira is famous for having stunning beaches and rugged terrain.
Sun worshippers fly to its capital, Funchal, but they don’t all stay there. The most intrepid travelers drive through the island’s maze of modern tunnels to swim in natural swimming pools, traipse on black volcanic beaches and hike to towering vistas.
We did all of those activities plus more. We also sailed to see dolphins dancing in the sea and watched an epic fireworks display that same night. These experiences were great as was Madeira’s mild climate and spectacular views.
But let’s be real – our main trip goal was to eat all of the food in Madeira. And, in that regard, we were highly successful.
Take a Madeira food tour if your main goal is to eat all the food in Madeira too.
Five days was just enough time for us to eat a variety of Madeira dishes and find our favorites.
Since we live in Lisbon, we skipped eating typical Portuguese dishes and instead focused on eating dishes specific to Madeira. After all, we can eat Arroz de Pato and Pasteis de Nata in Lisbon when we’re at home. Plus, we rarely say ‘no’ at the chance to eat super-fresh seafood plucked from the Atlantic Ocean.
Discover our Portuguese food favorites.
Madeira Food Guide
Madeira may be most famous for its beaches and terrain but its local cuisine deserves exploration too. It’s a relatively small island with a bustling market and two Michelin-starred restaurants. It’s also an island with a unique food set that’s defined by its island geography, subtropical climate and Portuguese traditions.
If you’re visiting Madeira for the first time, the island’s local dishes will likely be new to you However, if you’re like us, your first visit won’t be your last.
Read on to discover our picks for the Madeiran foods you must eat during your visit. We’ve included a selection of desserts and drinks to round out your culinary experience since that’s how we eat too.
Traditional Madeira Food | What To Eat In Madeira
Madeiran cuisine is defined by simplicity, locality and surprising culinary diversity.
Its Portuguese archipelago is located in the north Atlantic Ocean near Africa. Fruits and vegetables, which grow in the island’s ancient volcanic soil, thrive here and fresh fish is available in ridiculous abundance.
But Madeirans love meat too – both served on skewers and inside Prego sandwiches. As for Madeiran bread, it’s no longer limited to the island and can now be found all over Portugal.
We suggest starting your culinary journey with the following classic Madeira dishes:
1. Lapas (Limpets)
Trying lapas, Madeira’s picturesque, bottom feeding shellfish, is a must when exploring Madeiran cuisine. They’re usually grilled and served in their beautiful silvery shells and served with butter and garlic on top. But what are they?
Simply stated, lapas (i.e. limpets) are aquatic snails with weblike shells that live in ocean waters near both Madeira and the Azores. Their flavor and texture evoke a combination of clams and mussels. And, while they look like miniature abalone, the two species are unrelated even though they’re both bottom feeders.
You’ll want to approach limpets the way that Louisianans approach crawfish. Consider eating them on a wooden beachside table, along with a beer or some poncha, with friends at sunset. However, they’ll still taste good if you eat them inside a restaurant instead.
2. Espada (Black Scabbard Fish)
Black scabbard fish may be the ugliest fish in the ocean. Long and black, they have huge eyes and a mouth full of pointy teeth. If looks could kill, this fish would be the most dangerous fish in the sea. Ironically, these long black creatures of the Atlantic taste great.
Check out whole black scabbardfish at seafood stalls inside Funchal’s Mercado dos Lavradores. Be warned – they’re a long, freaky sight to behold.
When grilled and served as the Madeiran dish known as Filete de Espada, black scabbard is a meaty white fish that’s a delight to eat with a side or two. Adding a squirt or two of lemon juice enhances the fish’s flavor. However, the people of Madeira often top their favorite fish with banana in a dish called… you guessed it – Espada com Banana.
Where We Ate Espada In Madeira
Snack-Bar Bela 5
3. Espada Com Banana (Black Scabbard Fish With Banana)
While Madeiran people have been fishing and eating black scabbard fish for centuries, we’re not sure who had the creative idea to bread these eel-like fish, fry them and put a banana on top. We also wonder if the same person had the brilliant idea for the dish called Espada com Banana com Maracujá which adds passion fruit sauce for good measure.
This culinary creation is wonderful – a balance of sweet and savory local elements that create harmony on a plate.
Where We Ate Espada Com Banana In Madeira
4. Espetada Madeirense (Beef Skewer)
While it’s possible to eat skewers called Espetada made with all sorts of protein on mainland Portugal, it’s more special to eat Espetada Madeirense. Featuring big chunks of marinated meat cooked on bay wood skewers, Madeira’s version is nothing short of a showstopper.
This is the dish we devoured first, mere hours after our arrival. Cooked on hot coals and served dangling from a huge metal contraption, the carnivorous dish was a vegan’s worst nightmare. We loved it.
Where We Ate Espetada Madeirense In Madeira
Abrigo do Pastor
5. Bolo De Caco (Signature Madeira Bread)
You might think that Bolo de Caco is some sort of chocolate cake but you would be wrong. While bolo does indeed translate to cake, caco literally translates to shard, not chocolate. And the namesake caco is actually a basalt stone slab.
Baked with sweet potatoes in addition to wheat flour, Bolo de Caco is leavened bread that’s traditionally baked over coal on caco slabs. The round, caramelized, thick, frisbee-like bread reminds us of English muffins.
You can eat Madeira’s iconic bread on the mainland. Not only do supermarkets sell the round bread, but Lisbon’s Cervejaria Ramiro serves garlic bread that eerily resembles Bolo de Caco.
Bolo de Caco is typically slathered with garlic butter and served as a starter or as a side with Espetada Madeirense. However, the smartest travelers know to order Prego no Bolo de Caco, the island’s version of Portugal’s Prego sandwich, served on the island’s famous bread.
Where We Ate Bolo De Caco In Madeira
Abrigo do Pastor and Restaurants and Bakeries all over the Island
6. Prego No Bolo De Caco
The Prego no Bolo de Caco sandwich isn’t just one of the best sandwiches to eat in Madeira. It’s one of the best sandwiches to eat in Portugal.
Discover more great sandwiches to eat around the world.
The sandwich star features thinly sliced beef layered inside Bolo de Caco, the island’s iconic bread. Added ingredients like ham, cheese, fried eggs and veggies transform the sandwich into a meal.
7. Sopa Do Tomate (Tomato Soup)
Madeira’s version of tomato soup is far from a simple starter or sandwich side dish. Instead, it’s a flavorful soup made with ripe tomatoes, garlic cloves and a generous amount of onions.
Discover more great soups to eat around the world.
Madeiran cooks traditionally top Sopa do Tomate with a poached egg and serve the not-so-simple soup with fresh bread. The resulting tomato and onion soup is hearty enough to eat as a main course if you’re not too hungry.
Where We Ate Sopa Do Tomate In Madeira
8. Picado à Madeirense (Beef Cubes)
Similar to Pica-Pau eaten in Portuguese cities like Lisbon and Porto, Picado à Madeirense is a savory starter that’s fun to share with meat loving friends. Also called Picadinho, picado cubes are typically made with beef.
You’re in luck if you’re a pescatarian or simply a fan of fresh fish. Some Madeira restaurants make picado dishes with octopus (polvo), squid (lula) and tuna (atum) instead of beef.
Typically surrounded by fried potatoes, Picado à Madeirense is a popular starter at Madeira restaurants. It’s sometimes served with toothpicks at snack bars.
Where We Ate Picado à Madeirense In Madeira
9. Milho Frito (Fried Maize)
Similar to fried polenta in Italy, Milho Frito are deep fried corn meal cubes. They’re often eaten as a side dish with Espetada and other main dishes.
Milho Frito‘s ingredients include minced kale and garlic. Some cooks add Caldo Verde (Portuguese kale soup) to the mix. The end result is an addictive treat that’s a satisfying alternative to fried potatoes.
Order Milho Frito when you’re feeling peckish. The fried cornmeal petisco pairs well with beer.
Where We Ate Milho Frito In Madeira
Abrigo do Pastor
10. Leitão Assado (Roasted Suckling Pig)
Just like in the rest of Portugal, pork is a food staple in Madeira. And there’s no better pork dish to eat in Madeira than Leitão Assado.
Suckling pigs are often sourced from the region of Bairrada on the Portuguese mainland, but the animals are sourced locally in Madeira. Once the pigs are sourced, chefs roast them with simple ingredients like garlic, salt and pepper. They later serve Leitão Assado with the crunchy, crackly skin attached.
Where We Ate Leitão Assado In Madeira
Abrigo do Pastor
11. Sopa De Trigo (Wheat Soup)
Sopa de Trigo is a hearty dish that literally translates to wheat soup. It’s a thick soup that’s ideal for the island’s cool winter nights.
Prepared with local ingredients like potatoes, pumpkin, beans and wheat berries, the humble dish can either be cooked with a melange of vegetables or with bacon added. If you happen to be on the top of a mountain on a January night in Madeira, this dish will surely hit the spot.
Where We Ate Sopa De Trigo In Madeira
Abrigo do Pastor
12. Polvo (Octopus)
Octopus fans won’t be disappointed in Madeira where the eight-legged cephalopod takes center stage in various preparations. Some cooks grill the mollusk and serve it with rice while others chop it up and serve it picado style or with vinaigrette.
Hard core food travelers will want to try the local dish called Polvo de Escabeche in which octopus is marinated in a tangy vinaigrette. However, there’s no right or wrong way to eat octopus in Madeira. It’s all tasty.
Where We Ate Polvo In Madeira
13. Bife De Atum (Tuna Steak)
While black scabbard may be Madeira’s signature fish, it’s not the only fish in Madeira’s sea, both literally and figuratively. Fisherman have access to a bounty that includes mackerel, sea bream, trout and our personal favorite – tuna.
Tuna is abundant in the Atlantic waters that surround Madeira and, as a result, tuna steak is easy to find both at the bustling Mercado dos Lavradores and at Funchal’s old town restaurants.
The most typical restaurant preparation involves marinating tuna steaks in a vinaigrette made with garlic, olive oil, oregano and salt. Some Madeira chefs serve whole tuna steaks while others serve it picado style.
Where We Ate Atum In Madeira
Bela 5 Snack Bar
Madeira Desserts | Sweet Treats In Madeira
Honey cake, known as Bolo de Mel, is the most famous dessert in Madeira but it’s far from the island’s only sweet treat. Some of best local desserts, including that iconic cake, are baked with locally grown sugarcane. Others are prepared with tropical fruit.
Pastel de Nata in Madeira
You may be wondering if you can find Pastel de Nata, Portugal’s most popular pastry, in Madeira. The answer is yes at spots like A Confeitaria and Nata 7. However, the eggy cream tart, which isn’t a local specialty, is more of a novelty item designed for tourists. So, while you can eat Pasteis de Nata in Madeira, the better option is to eat local pastries instead. Don’t worry, you can eat your weight in Natas when you’re in Lisbon where the conventual pastry was invented.
Now that we’ve addressed the elephant in the room, we suggest starting your exploration of Madeira desserts with the following sweet treats:
14. Bolo De Mel (Honey Cake)
If you only have time to eat one dessert in Madeira, that dessert should be a Bolo de Mel, a cake that dates back to the 15th century when Portugal was a major player in the spice trade. The sweet cake is made with molasses as well as spices like cinnamon and clove.
Although it’s considered to be a Christmas dessert, Bolo de Mel is available year round on the island. You should be able to find it at local bakeries, markets and tourist shops.
Fábrica Santo Antonio, a historic bakery in Funchal, sells Bolo de Mel de Cana as well as Broas de Mel (honey cookies), Queijadas (cheese pastry) and Doce de Funcho (fennel candy). Be sure to check out the bakery’s vintage scales during your obligatory visit.
Where We Bought A Bolo De Mel In Madeira
Fábrica Santo Antonio
15. Broas De Mel (Honey Cookies)
Broas de Mel are crunchy honey cookies that remind us of gingerbread snaps. Flavored with spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, the cookies are ideal holiday treats but are delightful at any time of the year. They’re especially good when paired with Madeira wine.
Broa de Mel literally translates to honey bread. The confusing name was inspired by the cookie’s shape as opposed to its flavor or texture.
Where We Bought Bros De Mel In Madeira
Fábrica Santo Antonio
16. Queijada (Cheese Pastry)
Madeira doesn’t produce Portugal’s only Queijadas. Sintra has a version as does Évora. But Portugal’s various Queijadas aren’t the same – they’re baked with different cheeses or, in the case of Queijada Feijão, no cheese at all.
Madeira’s Queijadas are baked with locally produced cottage cheese called requeijão as well as standard pastry ingredients like butter, eggs, milk and sugar. The end product is sweet, creamy and delicious.
Where We Bought A Queijada In Madeira
Fábrica Santo Antonio
17. Pudim De Maracujá (Passion Fruit Pudding)
Unlike most Portuguese sweets, Pudim de Maracujá doesn’t include eggs. While the dessert’s dominant flavor comes from passion fruit, the pudding gets its richness from cream and condensed milk.
Passion fruit, now grown on Madeira soil for centuries, isn’t indigenous to the island. Sailors brought the tropical fruit to Madeira (and subsequently Portugal) from Brazil.
Where We Ate Pudim De Maracujà In Madeira
18. Frutas Tropicais (Tropical Fruit)
Calorie counters are in luck in Madeira. Some of the best desserts are the fruits that fill markets like Funchal’s Mercado dos Lavradores.
Despite their tropical status, local fruits like mangos, passion fruit and pineapples are familiar. Others like tamarillo (tree tomatoes), tabaibo (prickly pear) and anona (custard apple) are more exotic.
Madeira’s fruits have an eclectic past which mirrors Portugal’s seafaring past. Some fruits have roots in South America and others in Africa. Even its ubiquitous bananas, despite their world-class quality, aren’t indigenous to the island.
Where We Ogled Tropical Fruit In Madeira
Mercado dos Lavradores
19. Bananas (Bananas)
After 500 years, give or take, of production, it’s fair to give Madeira kudos for growing some of the world’s best bananas.
Explore a Madeira banana farm during a Funchal Agriculture Green Tour.
Madeira bananas have a pleasing acidity that’s uncommon in most bananas. We like eating them for breakfast, as a snack and, yes, even for dessert. They also taste great when transformed into smoothies and Licor de Banana da Madeira.
Where We Bought Bananas In Madeira
Mercado dos Lavradores
20. Chocolate De Frutas (Fruit Flavored Chocolates)
Funchal’s UauCacau sources chocolate from South America and transforms it into colorful baubles that are almost too pretty to eat. The key word here is almost.
Visitors at the compact shop have a difficult choice to make from an array of colorful chocolates filled with fruits like mango, passion fruit and, of course, banana. More daring chocoholics can choose chocolates filled with poncha or Madeira wine.
Where We Ate Chocolate De Frutas In Madeira
21. Rebucados De Funcho (Fennel Candy)
Eating Rebucados de Funcho in Madeira is a must. The hard candy, which is named after the fennel that grows in Funchal, has a unique anise flavor and pleasing taste.
After buying the fennel candy on a whim, we later learned that it’s coveted by both locals and savvy travelers. We also learned, through real-life application, that the cylindrically-shaped sweet candy doubles as a soothing sore throat remedy.
Where We Bought Rebucados De Funcho In Madeira
Fábrica Santo Antonio
Madeira Drinks | What To Drink In Madeira
Madeira wine is famous around the world but it’s not something you want to drink all day every day. Doing so would likely result in a serious headache. Luckily, there’s no need to take that dangerous drinking approach during your visit.
While no other beverage is as famous as its fortified wine, Madeira has numerous drinks worth sipping at least once. Options range from fresh juices to crafted cocktails.
We suggest starting your exploration of Madeira drinks with the following liquid libations:
22. Vinho Madeira (Madeira Wine)
Madeira wine has a history as interesting as the drink itself.
Legend has it that the island’s sailors would fortify wine with brandy before long voyages at sea in an effort to lengthen the wine’s shelf life. To everybody’s pleasant surprise, the fortified wine actually improved during those voyages after exposure to long periods of heat and humidity.
More than five centuries later, Madeira’s wine is far from a hidden gem. Obsessive oenophiles collect bottles of Madeira similar to the way that kids collect baseball cards. Vintage bottles are special. We tasted a bottle in Philadelphia that dated back to the 1800s. However, newer bottles have their charms too.
Tasting fortified wine in Madeira is a must, with most visitors accomplishing this bucket list item at the Blandy’s wine lodge in Funchal. We were no exception, tasting both dry and sweet varietals at the historic cellar located in a repurposed monastery.
Where We Tasted Madeira Wine In Madeira
Blandy’s Wine Lodge
23. Poncha (Sugar Cane Cocktail)
Poncha delivers a punch with ingredients that include aguardente de cana (sugar cane brandy), honey and fresh juice. It’s the drink we encountered most frequently in Madeira and the one responsible for giving us a hangover or two. To be fair, considering poncha‘s fruity flavor and drinkability, the first hangover wasn’t our fault
Order a Nikita cocktail if you tire of drinking poncha. The beer-based cocktail is crafted with fresh pineapple, pineapple juice and ice cream. Yes, ice cream.
You’ll want to start your poncha exploration with Pescador Poncha, a fisherman’s punch crafted with aguardente de cana, lemon juice and sugar. Honey and orange juice are added to make Regional Poncha. Which poncha flavor you drink after those two is between you, your bartender and your conscience.
Where We Drank Poncha In Madeira
Most Bars We Visited in Madeira Plus Some Restaurants
24. Vinho Branco (White Wine)
Contrary to popular belief, not all wine in Madeira is fortified. And, while Madeira isn’t famous for it’s non-fortified wine, the island is one of Portugal’s distinct wine regions along with the likes of Alentejo, Dão and the Douro.
Explore Madeira wine estates during a full-day wine tour.
Many Madeiran white wines are produced with locally grown Verdelho grapes. The crisp, dry wine pairs well with fish dishes which, as previously noted, are both easy to find and delightful to eat in Madeira.
Where We Drank Vinho Branco In Madeira
Various Restaurants and Bars
25. Cerveja (Beer)
Portugal’s two mass-produced beers, Sagres and Super Bock, have a competitor in Madeira and that competitor is Coral. Locals have been drinking the local ale, brewed by the Madeira Brewery, both at home and in bars for more than half a century.
Madeira’s biggest beer producer started brewing lager and stout beers back in 1969 and later introduced low-alcohol versions of both 24 years later. The brewery also produces non-alcoholic drinks including Atlântida water (both still and sparkling) and Brisa, the island’s most popular soft drink.
Where We Drank Beer In Madeira
Pub Number Two
26. Brisa Maracujá (Passion Fruit Soda)
The Madeira Brewery sells a variety of Brisa soft drinks in flavors like cola, passion fruit, lemon, mango, orange, pineapple as well as non-carbonated soft drinks called BriSol. However, its popular passion fruit flavored Brisa Maracujá is the one to try first.
Debuting in 1970, just one year after the debut of Coral beer, Brisa Maracujá is a sweet, slightly carbonated soft drink made with real passion fruit juice. The yellow soda tastes great with ice on a hot summer’s day. However, we won’t judge you if you add some gin or vodka to your glass.
27. Café (Coffee)
Madeira has a vibrant coffee culture at local cafes where popular coffee drinks include bica (espresso), garoto (small espresso with milk), chinesa (large espresso with milk) and cortadinho (espresso with liquor). Sadly, we’re not fans of those drinks which are typically produced with bitter robusta beans.
We were pleased to find coffee drinks crafted with arabica beans at two Funchal cafes – Art Food Center and Maia Coffee Shop. We recommend both to fellow specialty coffee connoisseurs who like to order flat whites and pour overs wherever they travel.
Useful Madeira Facts
Food In Madeira FAQs
Madeira’s most famous food is actually a drink. Its wine, simply called Madeira, traveled the globe centuries ago with Portugal’s explorers. It’s available all over the world but tastes best on the island where it’s produced.
This is a trick question since Madeira isn’t a nation. However, it’s fair to say that Espada com Banana is the Portuguese island’s most iconic dish.
Yes. Since much of the food in Madeira is both local and seasonal, you can expect to eat well during your visit.
Food in Madeira ranges from cheap eats to fine dining. In other words, you can easily eat for well under 50€ a day or blow it out and spend much more.
Madeira currently has two Michelin-starred restaurants: William has one star and Il Gallo d’Oro has two stars.
People typically eat dinner between 7pm and 10pm in Madeira.
Anthony Bourdain never filmed an episode of The Layover, No Reservations or Parts Unknown in Madeira.
No. Tipping is optional in Portugal.
Reservations are necessary at top Madeira restaurants.
Hungry For More In Portugal?
About The Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on their website 2foodtrippers. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers a unique taste of the world.
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Original Publication Date: March 30, 2023